Monday 8 March 2021

A Major Statue of Concern

 I guess it had to happen: the statue of Philip Larkin, the well-known racist, that stands outside Hull's Paragon station, has turned up on a list of 'major statues of concern' compiled by Hull City Council in response to the Black Lives Matters vogue. He is in good company, as it seems Andrew Marvell is also on the list. Hey ho. 
  What's striking about the Larkin statue is that it's actually rather good, portraying the poet in motion and effectively capturing something of his character and energy. I can think of only one other modern sculpture of a poet that is as good (if not rather better), and that is John Betjeman on St Pancras station, holding on to his hat as he looks up at that wondrous roof. Like Larkin, he too is wearing an eloquent raincoat; these are conventionally dressed Englishmen, out and about in English weather, and both carrying bags. There is nothing heroic, or conventionally 'poetic', about either statue – which is as it should be. 

Both statues are by the sculptor Martin Jennings (and the Betjeman stands as a living rebuke to the monstrous creation called The Meeting Place, or The Lovers, that looms over it). Another of Jennings's statues of writers stands outside Broadcasting House – his George Orwell. This is a rather awkward, angular affair – which is no doubt in keeping with Orwell's character and physical presence – but the figure seems out of proportion to the plinth and insecurely anchored on it. Perhaps Jennings should have put a raincoat on him.

The quotation on the wall behind is from an unused preface to Animal Farm, and rings all too true today: 'If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.' 

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